The election defeat was a devastating blow to Labour activists and to millions of workers in Britain. However, there is a ray of hope shining through the darkness and despair. The new contingent of Labour MPs includes a number from the left of the party, which is a welcome development. These include Zarah Sultana of Coventry South and Nadia Whittome from Nottingham East.
Zarah Sultana made waves recently for her bold maiden speech in Parliament on 16 January. By convention, a maiden speech is meant to be light-hearted and uncontroversial, even courteous to members on the opposite side of the benches. Such parliamentary conventions are designed to blur class divisions and create the illusion of a cosy establishment consensus.
In other words, Parliament is not supposed to be a place for militant agitation, but for ‘friendly’ debate and discussion between political representatives on how to best serve the interests of the capitalist class. But Sultana refused to conform with this hypocritical tradition, stating bluntly:
“I know convention is for maiden speeches to avoid saying anything members opposite will find very disagreeable, but I can’t do that. Because my generation has only ever faced a future of rising rents, frozen wages and diminishing opportunities.”
Speaking sharply but eloquently, Sultana correctly pointed out that the climate crisis is a “capitalist crisis” - one that must be fought with a “class struggle without borders”. Denouncing “disaster capitalism”, polluting monopolies, and the insatiable thirst of big business and billionaires for profit, the Coventry South MP called for “power to be put in the hands of the working class”.
“This new society has an old name,” Sultana asserted, “Socialism.”
Five more years of Tory rule is almost enough to make me despair.— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) January 15, 2020
But we can't despair.
Because if we do, then the climate emergency will become the climate catastrophe.
In my maiden speech, I called for a Green New Deal to escape disaster capitalism – and build socialism. pic.twitter.com/LtcxBPk3KF
This stirring maiden speech was followed up by another bolshie parliamentary performance earlier this week, when Sultana spoke out against “colossal student debts”.
Challenging her Tory opponents, and brandishing her latest student loan statement, Sultana asked whether it was fair that working-class students were lumbered with debts of over £50,000, whilst the government is led by a man who “went straight from the playing fields of Eton to a free education at Oxford”.
Alongside receiving heckles from the Conservative benches, Sultana was later accused by one Tory MP of declaring “class warfare”. Her response was an unashamed and unequivocal assertion that, “If there is a class war, it’s the 1% who are winning”.
After I called out how unfair it is that working class kids are saddled with £50k of debt for going to uni, while the PM went from Eton to free education at Oxford, a Tory MP accused me of "class warfare".— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) January 20, 2020
Let's be clear: If there's class war, it's the 1% who are winning.
Workers’ MPs, worker’s wage
Nadia Whittome, meanwhile, has made a name for herself by publicly declaring that she will take no more than an average worker’s wage as MP. This is absolutely the right decision. All Labour MPs should follow this example.
Being a Labour MP should not be a job for life, sitting on a pile of money. Labour MPs have a responsibility to represent the interests of the working class. To this end, they should have the same material interests as those they represent.
Some have objected that if MPs’ wages are reduced, only rich people will be able to enter Parliament. But Whittome’s example proves that this claim is false and disingenuous. Of course, well-to-do lawyers and consultants might be put off. To them, we say: good riddance! If they want to raise their pay the solution is simple: raise the pay of the ordinary workers who voted for you.
Ensuring that we have workers’ MPs on a worker’s wage will help to purge the party of careerists. This demand should go hand in hand with Rebecca Long-Bailey’s recent call for open selection (mandatory reselection), to guarantee that the Parliamentary Labour Party is composed of genuine class fighters.
Sultana and Whittome have shown the way forward with their call for bold socialist policies and pledge to take a worker’s wage, respectively. Grassroots Labour members must demand that all Labour MPs follow suit. Only in this way can we complete the transformation of the Labour Party and turn it into a real weapon for the working class.